The Body Is Not an Apology’s goal is to share the myriad ways human bodies unshackle the box of “beauty” and fling it wide open for all of us to access. Our goal is to redefine the unapologetic, radically amazing magnificence of EVERY BODY on this planet. When we do, we change the world! Join the movement and become a subscriber today! bit.ly/NoBodiesInvisible.
I never make New Year’s resolutions. Why set myself up for failure, and right at the beginning of the year, no less? I don’t mean that in a negative way, because I’m totally in favor of positive change at any time of the year. But one thing I’ve learned through experience is that making a list of things I’m going to start or stop doing on a particular date is definitely not the way to go about making change happen.
Because my issue for almost all of my life was my obsession with being overweight, my resolutions were always about going on a diet and losing weight. My plan was always that I would allow myself to eat what I wanted until a specific day – January 1st – and then, bam! All of a sudden, I was somehow magically going to be able change myself completely into someone who could start a diet and stay on it. Right. What I remember most are the immediate failures because one, I got hungry/tempted/bummed out and rationalized putting it off until tomorrow, or two, I actually forgot I was supposed to be on the diet until I’d already eaten something I wasn’t supposed to. By then, of course, I’d blown the diet, and had to wait until the next day to start again.
I also reject this idea of the new year as a “time to start over with a clean slate” as just another trap we lay for ourselves to guarantee failure. The reality is that we carry our own slates with us wherever we go; what we need to do is make peace with them, demerits and all. Starting over and having to wipe the slate clean is a major proposition, actually necessary only under really drastic circumstances.
Sometimes all we really need to do is get unstuck so we can start moving forward again.
At this point I should probably confess that as I get older, the calendar new year has gotten less and less interesting to me, particularly with regard to signifying anything really meaningfully new. I was raised Jewish, and while I continue to be as unobservant and secular a Jew as you could ever imagine, there is one aspect of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, to which I find myself drawn when thinking about change. Rosh Hashanah begins a ten-day period called the Days of Awe, which end on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This new year period is a time when Jews evaluate their lives over the past year and, in essence, think about what they need to atone for, and what they want to change.
It’s the part about contemplating change that I’m drawn to; evaluating my actions and behavior towards others and towards myself over the past year; where I want to make changes and how I want to move forward.
Many years ago, I heard a rabbi say something in his sermon which has always stayed with me, and had an important influence on how I still think about change. Changing ourselves, he told us, does not mean seeking perfection; it does not mean always hitting the bull’s eye, because we’re human, and humans aren’t perfect.
Our job, he told us, is just to keep trying to come as close as we can.
This, to me, is also the essence of assuring radical self-love when we come to the recognition that changes are necessary for us to live the life we want to live and deserve to live. There is no such thing as life without change, but radical self-love means that on the personal level, in those ways that we are able to have control (recognizing that are many ways in which we do not and will not have control), we approach the changes we want with the consciousness of what we are asking for, rather than with the desperation of needing to change right now because we are so miserable the way we are. As someone who spent much of her life in an ongoing dance begging for change from the arms of desperation, I can tell you it is not a place of radical self-love, and it is not a place from which to devise a successful strategy for lasting change.
More Radical Reads: Going Gray: Learning to Love My Changing Body
What do I mean when I say, “what we are asking for” of change? What is the change many of us want so desperately? Every one of us can make her own list. Over time, as I got older, I had some major revelations about myself that were a great relief. The most important change that occurred was that I realized, I don’t remember when, probably in my late fifties, that the pressure I had felt all my life, automatically, every single day, to find a partner, a mate, didn’t have to be there anymore. Even though I knew, and had known for years, that I was very happy living alone and didn’t want anyone else, the idea that I was supposed to find someone was so deeply embedded in my unconscious that it still exerted pressure on how I felt and everything I did. When I was able to let that go, other changes began to follow.
Although it sounds contradictory to what I just described, there has always been a part of me that, not exactly purposely but I know it was there, used my weight to rebel against all the cultural imperatives for women to be a certain way. I didn’t want to do that anymore either.
I decided what I wanted was to be happy with who I was whatever I looked like. I wanted to own myself.
I didn’t want feel guilty about what I ate. I also wanted to be healthy. I was afraid of what my excessive weight meant for my health, but I decided I was done with being bullied by doctors. I was definitely never going to go on a “diet” again. So clearly there were inherent contradictions in the changes I wanted to have happen. Change asks us to do a lot of thinking, and to make some big decisions if change is really what we want. Sometimes it’s easier to think about the change we want, beat ourselves up for not doing it, than actually do it because sometimes it’s just too hard. I know that from a lot of intimate first-hand experience as well.
None of the changes in my life have come easily, nor have I by any means achieved them all. But some I have and they are worth sharing. After being diagnosed with diabetes type II, I changed the way I ate. It was a choice, but a forced choice. A side-effect of diabetes if not treated is loss of eyesight. When I was in college, the sister of a good friend of mine had gone blind from diabetes, and even though that was forty years ago, and treatment has advanced a lot since then, my eyesight is really important to me. I changed my eating pretty radically at first, but much less so over the years.
Over the past ten years, since I got diagnosed, my eating habits kept changing – some periods better than others, but overall better – and I have lost over 100 lbs. I’m happier with who I am and what I look like, both because of my weight loss but also because of other choices I made in my life. I’m still the world’s worst housekeeper but I don’t beat myself up about it – as much, anyway. My health is not perfect – it never will be – but it’s decent. For me that’s a real achievement.
It took me almost sixty years, losing and gaining back hundreds of pounds – not an exaggeration – for me to finally earn some wisdom about how change works.
It isn’t by some grand plan for starting over, making great new year’s resolutions, cleaning the slate – those are not radical self-love strategies for change. Too often they are traps that set us up for failure before we even begin by expecting us to drastically change ourselves in ways that experience has shown has don’t work.
More Radical Reads: 5 Things I Did After Turning Forty That Changed How I Saw My Aging Self
This is some of the wisdom I’ve gained from aging and trying to practice radical self-love instead of desperate self- expectation.
1.Our ability to change rarely happens overnight, in a flash, just because we want it to happen, or vow to make it happen.
Sometimes it may seem that way but, just like the actors and writers who work their butts off for twenty years to suddenly become “overnight sensations,” lasting change is really the end of a long slow process of small cumulative choices and changes.
2. Change is more about choices than plans.
Change comes from the choices we make on a day-to-day, sometimes a moment-to-moment basis about what we’re going to do, how we’re going to react to the given situation in front of us. I once lost 135 lbs. in a 12-step program. I knew I was going to stick with it one night at work when someone brought cookies and I really wanted to have oh, more than one.
But suddenly I flashed on myself at my locker changing out of my work clothes at the end of the shift and thinking to myself, “why did I eat those cookies?” In that moment, knowing that that was exactly how I would feel, I didn’t have the cookies. Maybe to someone to whom turning down cookies was never such a big deal that sounds like making a mountain out of a really trivial molehill. But it wasn’t to me. It had never happened to me before – I had made a choice for change. The more often we choose not to do something (or to do something) the more we are creating change in ourselves.
3.Real lasting change doesn’t come from the arms of desperation.
Change requires consciousness; how else can we get what we want? Change requires the acceptance of imperfection as something shared by all humans. Radical self-love gives our own struggles context and the consciousness to make change meaningful beyond our own vanity, helping us remember not to become obsessed by the need to hit the bull’s eye right now.
4.Starting over? Or just getting unstuck?
Sometimes we make changing harder than it needs to be because we’re trying to make the wrong changes. Is it really necessary to start over from square one? Is it ever really possible to start over with a totally clean slate? What does that mean in practical terms? Sometimes what we really need to do is get ourselves unstuck from a bad situation, freeing ourselves to move forward and find the things we want.